Procrastinate Distraction2 min read

We all know how to procrastinate, but we usually procrastinate the wrong things—putting off what is meaningful but uncomfortable. Procrastinating distraction uses this ability for good, putting off things that are comforting but trivial or distracting. 

The method is simple: when there is an urge to indulge in a distraction, procrastinate it. Keep focused on your work and postpone the distraction till later, so that the instant gratification is no longer so instant.

When does “later” become “now”? That is up to you. For the distractions that you want to completely let go of, due to their harmful effects or time-wasting nature, the answer is never. For other types of distractions, you can allow yourself to engage in them as a reward for having made progress in your important goals; in any case, wait at least half an hour before indulging.

This kind of procrastination doesn’t lead to a boring life, devoid of pleasure. Rather, it makes you cherish the pleasures even more. 

As with other methods, for this one to work, you must pause and cultivate awareness. Slowing down your impulses allows you to see things more clearly and make better choices. Procrastinate Distraction is, thus, a variant of the PAW Method. 

  • Pause: Whenever you are tempted by distraction/pleasure, pause and take three deep breaths. 
  • Awareness: Become aware of the distraction and how tempting it feels. 
  • Willpower: Consciously postpone the distraction, and re-focus on your goal. 

Repeat the process as often as needed, until you complete the work you set yourself to do. To make it easier, remove the distraction if possible. Close a tempting browser tab. Put your phone in airplane mode, or on silent mode (and face down!). Put the chocolate back in the pantry.

Instead of delaying the temptation, why don’t we simply say no? It’s because in most cases that doesn’t work. It feels like it’s forever a “no”, and your mind will rebel and reject that instruction. Research shows that telling the mind it can have cake later is a bit like having cake now—maybe even better at diminishing the appetite than actually eating it.

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous also uses a version of this principle. The commitment alcoholics make is: “I will not drink today”. This is much more doable than “I will never drink again”. 

Take a moment to choose a troublesome distraction, and firmly commit to procrastinating that distraction. You may want to set an external reminder to keep it in mind, and even to journal about it every night for a couple of weeks, for extra accountability and self-awareness.

This method is not going to work if you are constantly living in auto-pilot, just indulging mindlessly without even noticing. If that is the case for you, consider strengthening the core awareness practices of meditation and reflection in your daily life. The more you slow down and live mindfully, the easier it is to become aware of your compulsions and to make conscious choices about them.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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